AMMAN — Syrian jets bombed on Saturday rebel-held eastern areas close to the border with Iraq under the control of the name Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, killing and injuring dozens in stepped up raids against the militant group since its Iraqi offshoot made stunning gains in northern Iraq.
Five raids killed at least 16 people and injured dozens more when bombs hit residential areas in the town of Muhassan just over 60 miles from Iraq, a day after tribal elders in the town along the Euphrates River pledged allegiance to ISIS.
The Syrian branch of the hardline Islamists, whose stated aim is to create a strict Islamic state straddling national borders, took over the town of Muhassan along with the Albulil and Albuomar, in the latest advance in eastern Syria adjoining territory the al-Qaeda splinter has seized in Iraq.
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Syrian fighter jets were seen taking off from the rebel besieged Deir al-Zor military airport to bomb several areas under the control of ISIS and witnesses and activists said areas near the border with Iraq close to the city of Abu Kamal were bombed.
"[Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad's forces want to punish towns such as Muhassan for their support of ISIL. This bombing campaign is lending a hand to help Iraqi Shi'ite leader Maliki [Iraqi Prime Minister] to destroy ISIL after its victories," said Abdullah al-Mashour, an ISIS sympathizer from the town of Muhassan, by Skype.
The hardline Islamist group which has been involved in fighting rival insurgents for months to consolidate its grip on the oil rich Deir al-Zor province on the border with Iraq is staging an offensive to capture the remaining parts of the province it still does not control.
Opposition sources say their next targets are Shuheel, Mayadin and Abu Kamal, towns closer to the Syria border and now in the hands of rival Islamist groups, to allow ISIS to stretch territorially to Iraq, where family and tribal ties overlap.
ISIS already controls almost 70 percent of the Deir al-Zor region, according to some rebel sources.
ISIS's seizure of large amounts of weaponry and money from looted banks in Iraq after its capture of the city of Mosul have emboldened followers in Syria and instilled fear among tribal leaders in the eastern region, forcing many to make truces and accept their tutelage, some residents say.